Batchas started to play electronics and experimental, industrial music in 1983 using analog machines. The way our world vibrates always fascinated him and today he enjoys very much every ephemeral moment spent improvising on his modular systems. Not easy to resume in a few words it may be a better idea to visit his website:
What have you been working on lately, and do you have any upcoming releases or performances?
I’d love to find interested labels who wish to release some of the music I did the last few years on my modular systems!
I don’t have the contacts I had in the 90s with labels, so it might take some time, but I hope I’ll be able to share this music.
I just finished sorting out some tracks for a release made on the Serge Paperface.
I don’t have any performance planed yet. It also depends on contacts, but mostly on my physical condition. Improvising live with Ciat-Lonbarde machines is something I’d love to do more, we’ll see how it turns on.
How were you first acquainted to Modular Synthesis? When did that happen? When did you buy your first system?
In the 80s I didn’t have the money for a modular system, the technical know-how to be able to maintain a system and the space where to put it. I didn’t have a sedentary life anyway until I moved to Switzerland in the 90s.
I started in the 80s with analog synths like the Korg MS series, plus a few other machines and it meant already a lot to own these great machines. I never felt like I was lacking a modular to be honest. I could not afford any and this way I learned to appreciate what I had, also to live with and take advantage of the limitations of each unique machine, discovering with time their potential and learning every detail.
As we know, limitations push us to be more creative anyway.
I remember building some Paia kits, but I can’t say they ever worked the way they should have! Without internet back then and depending where you were living, doing electronics was totally different than having online forums where to ask your questions, share infos with a community like we can now and order components online from everywhere!
Before people moved on to digital in the 90s and did let go their analog machines for peanuts, modulars systems were very expensive. Or the one I came across, the big ones, were at least in very bad technical shape. I bought a small Digisound system mid 90s and I was lucky to be able to buy a Roland 100M in a perfect state. I kept and played it during 2 decades. Many functions on the Digisound were not working like they were supposed to, so I started slowly to repair. This led me to troubleshoot some old equipment I had too. It’s only when the Doepfer came out, that modulars became more „affordable“. A friend I was playing with bought the Doepfer when it came out and always performed live with it. It was portable, less cumbersome than all the machines I was carrying on stage, very powerful too… I waited a few years before buying one too.
The Buchla, Serge and BugBrand systems came much later, after I earned enough money as a developer.
What was the effect of that discovery on your compositional process? On your existence?
With time, I did let go on all the synths I ever had, keeping only my beloved MuSonics Minimoog and the modular systems. Not only because I moved to a different country and really needed to reduce for space reasons, but also because the more I played with the modular, the more I was able to do everything I wanted with it. The relation with the instrument goes deeper. I guess it is because it is patchable. I’m more connected to the machine, more spontaneous, free. As I’m not composing anymore since a long time, with the modular I can jam right away, instantly, just for fun and this is what I appreciate. Rhythms, bass lines, melody, filtering, modulation, noise etc, it’s all here at hand. Nothing is fixed or prebuilt per se and it’s just perfect for the way I do play or improvise in short sessions. What certainly changed is the place that electronics is now taken in my life. It evolved from developing skills or know-how to be able to repair my old equipment, to building new modules for my need or a friend. And as today I have a small brand with module adaptations and a couple of own creations.
Quite often modularists are in need for more, their hunger for new modules is never satisfied? How do you explain that?
My short simple answer would be: it’s due to the nature of our mind which is limitless and ever changing!
My long answer would be: In the modular world today there are no limitations, not like you had with systems like EMU, Moog, Roland, Polyfusion, Buchla, Serge etc etc back in the days. This is an important aspect in the light of the way we, as human, usually tend to act when no boundaries are set. If for instance you’re developing a product or an application and do not set a deadline, or have any technical or financial limits, than you’ll never be finished. You’ll always find something to add to it or to change.
Though I could say as long as you can afford to buy new modules, and as long as the system is changing and evolving, until it can find it’s own form, in a constructive way, why not... But there’s something annoying when I think about „need for more“ or „hunger for new“, cause it somehow implies that you’ll never be fully satisfied, given the amount of modules produced today in the Eurorack world. Huge amount which by the way surprises me. Is it really necessary to have on the market dozens of filters (hundreds?) which basically all do the same, at a very few exceptions?
In my opinion the causes for this need for more are diverse. We could ask ourselves, what would it be if it was not about modules. Maybe you’d want a bigger car, a bigger house, more this or that. It seems that „wanting always more“ or „being never satisfied“ is pretty common to most humans… it’s more obvious of course in a consumer society like ours (consumerist is maybe a more appropriate term actually), where we already have basically everything essential we need. We would not have such a gap or so many differences between social classes and the planet would not be how it became, if all humans were simply satisfied with what they had. It also seems pretty common to want something because you don’t have it and once you have it (once you’ve „gone round it“ as we use to say in french), then you don’t want it anymore, you’re done with it. If you observe a child with a new toy it’s pretty obvious. Again, in our consumer society, not in a society where you have nothing of course and struggle to survive.
It’s not my purpose to sound too dramatic or critical here, as we’re talking also about a passion we all share here on modulisme. So on another level, less predetermined so to say, maybe it’s simply the curiosity which drives this need for more modules. The technical aspect might be what makes it so attractive. Maybe it’s the child still living in everyone who wants to discover a new module, or experiment with it, make his own system like you’d do with a meccano kit or legos. Maybe there’s a challenge of wanting to understand and to tame a new module which seems complex or mysterious. Maybe it’s just our imagination playing some tricks. „With this module I’ll be able to do this or that“ or „I’ll do more then I can now“. Or the nature of our brain, our cells, with infinite connections. Again, simply put, it’s the nature of our mind!
What’s sure and proved, is that it won’t make you more creative. And the time you spend in swapping modules is the time you don’t spend making music :)
Would you please describe the system you used to create the music for us? Can you outline how you patched and performed your Modulisme session?
I put 2 or 3 sessions together to get a length of around 50 minutes, as I’m used to play short sessions since I had issues with my ears several years ago.
The system used for these sessions is an original Serge Paperface from 1978:
It’s a very compact system with a great choice of modules and functions. TKB is a central part which allows to controls diverse parameters via sequencing or touch control. I use a lot the NTO and their waveshapers, as well as self-modulation & cross-modulation. I like the FM on the NTOs and the PCOs very much too. The filters are great too, very effective. The VCFQ filter for instance is most of the time pingged and used for percussive stuff or bass sounds. The 2 stereo mixers present in this compact 5 panels system are very useful, cause they have 4 inputs each and offer PAN and VCA functions. The Dual Random Generator must be the module I use the most. To animate rhythms or to modulate parameters, add some nuances, complexity or dynamic. The DUSG and DTG are present in all patches, mostly as modulation sources, slow LFOs and so on. There’s always cross-modulation going on between them. I use the bidirectionnal routers a lot too, to switch between different signals, events, CV or audio. A module also present in all my patches is the Extended ADSR, with an input for each stage, allowing a great control over the envelope.
What would be the system you are dreaming of?
To be honest, I have everything I need or could have dreamed of. A few years ago I would have dream of an original Buchla 100, a 200 or an EMU system. But as it’s about dreaming, today I’d choose to spend some time again on a Arp 2500. No matter it does not have bananas and patch cables!
Are you feeling close to some other contemporary Modularists? Which ones? Which pioneers in Modularism influenced you and why?
I don’t know how to answer here, I’m so sorry. I hope it does not sound stupid, I don’t feel I’ve been influenced by pioneers in Modularism.
I was more focused on the music which procured me sensations than the machines themselves which were used. I like so many instruments from so many countries, acoustic, electronic… I can mention bands or projects which influenced me in the 70s, 80s and 90s, but not specifically related to modular.
Okay, to mention a name or two, I remember very well the videos that David Morley used to post several years ago. One made with a Buchla 200 for instance did really caught my attention back then, as the 200 was pretty rare.
A few years back, I enjoyed sharing my love for modulars on Muffwiggler with people like for instance Todd Barton, 7thDanSound or Djangosfire, who used to post very cool videos too. Today, I enjoy watching videos by Phisynth, Zack Dagoba...
Any advice you could share for those willing to start or develop their "Modulisme"?
To start, I’d recommend to try a module or a system live if you can. Way better than judging from a video or any audio recording. It’s worth going to a location where you can test by yourself, put your hands on it and get the feeling directly.
And if you don’t have any shop, friend, meetup or show nearby, then you have internet and forums like www.muffwiggler.com in english or www.synthe-modulaire.com in french, where you can ask your questions and share your experience.
I think we are very lucky to have what we have, no matter how many modules we have, or how expensive they are, so my advice is to take time to appreciate. Take time to explore a module before jumping to the next one. Each one has its own potential. Let the magic happen!